Down here in the "Real Texas," Amarillo to be precise (where the phrase "nice bull" doesn't generally refer to a little red circle on a dart board), darter Ray Fournier of the West Texas Darts Association (WTDA) weaved a tale that simply has to rate at the top of the list of the wildest stories I've heard in my years following the sport of darts. Quite possibly, Ray may be the only man alive to have ever faced death at the line and lived to tell about it.
Like good 'ole boy George Strait, I hit "Amarillo by morning" when the orange sun rises big and where, when it sets on the vast plains in the evening, some say you can actually see the curvature of the earth. For years, I've wanted to test my skills at the line against some real cattle-country cowboys and watch cowgirls line dance the way they do on television. I finally got the chance. Guys named Orville and Heath, with belt buckles the size of their Stetsons, did up some darts, Texas-style. They barbecued me. Yes, siree Bob. I fared much better ogling the cowgirls.
My first stop was the Route 66 Roadhouse, a large and dark country bar set smack alongside the famous old Route 66 highway. The place is crammed full of more lost hubcaps and tattered beer signs than can probably be found within any four walls on the planet. The joint has six boards, as many pool tables, and a huge stage that attracts bands the likes of Vince Hopkins and the Texas Brigade, whoever they are. It was here that I met Ray and a couple dozen of his buddies at the WTDA league banquet. After the awards (and after WTDA President John Terry proudly pledged $1,300 in funds raised to Jerry's Kids and the Make-A-Wish Foundation) we moved on to check out a blind draw up the road.
The Time Out Bar (16th and Jackson), a much smaller country bar but just as lively as the Roadhouse, currently sports just two boards but the owners plan to add another dozen or so soon. Certainly, they're on the right track. With three leagues operating - and growing fast - in the region (the Panhandle Darts Association and the Amarillo Darts Association being the other two) there are a host of shooters just waiting to use them. It was here - after my partner and I got torn up in our final game of cricket - that, one by one, the members of the WTDA treated me to stories, punctuated of course by beer after beer after beer, about life in this last real slice of the Old West.
One fact is certain, and this is that cows are big business down in this neck of the woods. In fact, Amarillo is considered the largest meat producing area in the country - an amazing 25 percent of all the beef consumed in America is produced here. There are some ranches that actually slaughter 25,000 cattle, a day, year-round. Animal-friendly guy that I am, I passed on seeing this and opted instead to go to Palo Duro Canyon to see how far I could throw a dried-up chip of cow manure.
It was also at the Time Out where Ray took me aside to tell his story .
A while back, it seems Ray and his wife Rhonda were out shooting with some friends at another place in town called The Office (now called Hoots) on Hobbs Street. Here they met and threw for hours with a hell of a darter from El Paso. The guy had been everywhere. And thrown everywhere. He knew his game. As Ray describes it, it was a "spectacular" evening. Only tired arms and early morning business prevented Ray and Rhonda from accepting their new-found friend's invitation to dinner.
The next evening Ray was home relaxing. The night before, while Ray was shooting at The Office, he had recorded one of his favorite shows. Ray and Rhonda slipped the still-warm cassette into the VCR and sat back with a couple of beers to watch America's Most Wanted. What they saw stunned them like nothing ever before in their lives. There on the screen, wanted for the murder of a couple from El Paso - a couple he had befriended in a bar tossing darts - appeared the mug of their acquaintance from the previous night!
Wilder yet, according to Ray, this killer darter is still on the loose. Ray describes the man as "a slim, slightly under six-foot-tall white guy, approximately 30 years old, with long, dirty blond hair." And, again, Ray hastens to add that the guy can tear the sisal off the board.
Despite my best effort I must admit I have been unable to verify Ray's story. And I've tried. I've spoken with the "America's Most Wanted" hot line, "Unsolved Mysteries" and even the El Paso Police Department - all to no avail. They remember murders. They remember murders in El Paso. What they simply do not recall is the darts connection. On the other hand, I've thrown and drank with guys who've been unable to remember their names the next morning.
I believe Ray's story. I have no reason not to. And this leads me to only one possible conclusion and only one logical solution.
The conclusion: somewhere in America (possibly standing at the line in a bar near you) is one tough shooter who, not entirely unlike the group of friends I made in Texas, takes his darts damn seriously.
The solution: from here on in my travels I will play it safe and spend my time with the cowgirls.
From the Field,